Nissan to build self-driven cars

Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Nissan, the sixth-largest automaker in the United States, announced Tuesday it will sell a self-driven car by 2020.

The company outlined its plans before a gathering of reporters from around the world meeting at a Nissan press event in Irvine, Calif.

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn was scheduled to brief reporters, but unexpectedly canceled at the last moment. Nissan executives gave no specific reason for the cancellation.

"Mr. Ghosn will not join us at the Nissan 360 program. He sends his regrets. We have a group of senior Nissan executives present, including Andy Palmer who will present the technology and give the keynote address," said Dave Reuter, vice president of corporate communications.

The last-minute cancellation was a disappointment to scores of reporters who flew to California to hear Ghosn's vision for the future of Nissan.

(Read more: US automakers fall further behind foreign brands)

Autonomous driven car plans

Nissan said it is working with several universities around the world including Stanford, MIT, Oxford, Carnegie Mellon and University of Tokyo to develop the technology for self-driven cars.

At this point, the company is not collaborating with Google, which has received worldwide attention for its work on autonomous driven vehicles, including the so-called "Google car."

(Read more: America's best drivers: Go West, says study)

Nissan is building a test track in Japan specially designed to replicate the challenges self-driven cars will face in real world conditions. The company is estimating the cost of adding autonomous driven technology to a luxury sedan will only be $1,000.

Race for autonomous driven cars

Nissan is not the only automaker racing to build and sell self-driven cars: Ford, General Motors and Toyota are also developing technology that would allow cars to steer, brake and accelerate with little or no interaction with the driver.

(Read more: Does Nissan risk losing business in 'Datsun' move?)

A handful of states have already passed laws establishing guidelines for testing autonomous-driven in real world conditions.

Still, few expect self-driven cars to roll out in big numbers in the near future.

While Ghosn canceled his appearance in Irvine, he did issue a statement about developing autonomous driven vehicles: "In 2007 I pledged that—by 2010—Nissan would mass market a zero-emission vehicle. Today, the Nissan LEAF is the best-selling electric vehicle in history. Now I am committing to be ready to introduce a new ground-breaking technology, Autonomous Drive, by 2020, and we are on track to realize it."

—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau. Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews.

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